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West Lothian Tackle Alcohol Misuse


Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009 West Lothian Tackle Alcohol Misuse

The BBC’s Branwen Jeffreys has covered a report with regards to the village of Blackburn in West Lothian. This is a small close-knit based community like many other typical Scottish towns.

The population of the village consists of roughly 5,000 inhabitants, and it endures it’s fair share of social problems that are often found within socially deprives areas.

Notably it has been stated that hospital admissions for alcohol misuse are higher the the Scottish national average.
The rate calculated per hundred thousand of population is 850 across Scotland, but 1,120 in Blackburn.

It’s one reason why a cross-community alcohol project is now underway here.

More specifically, a common thread, there is no difference in the price of alcohol. Indeed there are four off-licenses and a quick trip to just two of them highlights what can be bought for as little as £10.00.

In relation to the first shop, half a bottle of vodka ((37.5% ABV) and five cans of slightly stronger than standard lager (4.8%).

Jeffreys had already been told by several people hat cider was the most popular drink among teenagers and young adults. The second shop was able to sell me seven one litre bottles of strong cider (7.5%) for £9.73.

Alcohol Focus Scotland, carried out a report by the charity. Its findings were that a heavy drinking culture had become the norm here, with under-age drinking and drinking on the streets identified as problems in a community survey.

While the Scottish government considers what action to initially take on alcohol the community action programme here, is just beginning the process of trying to change attitudes to alcohol.

In particular, one primary school Our Lady of Lourdes are to use multimedia teaching packs based on the story of Rory, a dog whose owner drinks too much.

Armed with a large fluffy hand puppet of Rory, teacher Lisa Conaghan takes a class of eight- and nine-year-olds through Rory’s experience of being neglected and ignored until his owner gets help with his alcohol problem.

She said: “The children are becoming more and more aware there is a problem with alcohol - they mention it often in our day-to-day communications.

“They are very aware of alcohol, of family members who perhaps have problems, they are willing to share that and we want to foster that.”

The young age at which some people start drinking is one reason why the Rory pack has been developed for primary school age children.

Moreover a few miles away in the town of Bathgate Ben Mcphilhemy, is 35 and struggling with alcohol dependency. Ben began drinking when he was 12 years old, joining in with older lads hanging out on the swings in the local park.

His drinking was way out of control by the time he was in his twenties drinking between 10-14 bottles per day.

At the GP practice, where Ben has been seeking help, Dr James McCallum is sceptical about the extent to which any single measure, such as minimum pricing, could influence drinking patterns.

He believes patients on a lower income, who are more price-sensitive, might well moderate their drinking, but the impact on more affluent patients would be much smaller.

According to Dr McCallum who is the lead GP in the West Lothian Community Health and Care Partnership, says there is a more complex equation: “It’s clearly unhealthy to smoke regardless of the amount you’re smoking. With alcohol it is much more open to question.

“When you’re drinking about the recommended limits you are exposing yourself to social and health risks, when drinking within the limits it may even have positive health benefits.”

For the Scottish government there is another political consideration. By the time of the introduction of the smoking ban under the previous Labour administration smokers were in a minority of the population.

Now the Scottish Nationalists want greater restrictions on the price and availability of alcohol to be one of their flagship policies.

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